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Archive for the ‘Distraction Techniques’ Category

Many therapists use the term ‘Distraction Toolbox’ for recovery strategies. I have written before out this too and what Sophie used as her distraction toolbox. Basically the idea is to use healthy and positive means of taking the attention from eating, or ED thoughts, negativity etc that drag you down into ED behaviour or worse, relapse. Learning to block ED thoughts and behaviours, automatic thoughts, anxieties, fears, black/white thinking is critical to recovery and moving forward.

The below is a visual idea that makes it clear and easy to imprint your mind. Sophie’s biggest problem was trying to remember her tools to use when the ED voice was really loud. She would get distressed and her mind would go blank. So visual for her worked in clearing some of the ‘noise’ and helped her focus.

Thanks to Buzznet and ‘Forbidden’ Blog.

Let's make a Coping Skills Toolbox photo 1
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This wonderful post offers a deeper side of distraction. When your list is working for you, when maybe you are further along and its time to dig a bit deeper in the emotions and mind. I love the part of breaking things down into small manageable pieces and dealing with emotions in bite sized chunks. It helps you not be overwhelmed by it all, solving small pieces and gradually stringing them all together.

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From: http://susanschulherr.com/eating_disorder_recovery_blog/2009/09/coping-beyond-distraction-expanding-skills-for-living-in-eating-disorder-recovery/

Most of you are working on learning better ways to handle distress than turning to your eating disorder. This is an excellent project! Your success with it will go far to help you build a solid recovery.

Many people—with or without eating disorders—turn first to distraction as a way to manage difficult feelings. By distraction I mean diverting your focus from the upsetting thing to something unrelated, to get your mind off the upset. You’ve probably figured out that your eating disorder has been an unhealthy version of distraction. But maybe you’ve also found that listening to music, gardening, going to the movies or laughing with a friend can be healthy distractions.

I personally like distraction as a coping mechanism. I wouldn’t want to face life without it as an option. I find it can be a helpful choice when:

• I need to quiet down so I can consider a problem or upset more calmly and clearly
• I’ve worn out the usefulness of thinking about a problem for the time being
• There’s nothing I can do about a problem or upset

Several potential drawbacks go hand–in–hand with using even healthy distractions to cope, however. Most of these have to do with misuse or overuse.

The most common misuse of distraction comes from confusing it with an actual solution. Distraction at its best is only intended to provide a temporary resting place when you need a break from focusing on resolving your distress. When your distress is too intense or you’ve focused too long, a break is a good idea. Bur when you use distraction as a substitute for working out a problem or coming to terms with distress, you run into trouble. It’s the “ostrich with its head in the sand.” You not only fail to resolve anything, you build a reputation with yourself as someone who can’t handle difficult experiences. The next time something hard comes up, you haven’t developed any confidence in yourself. So you’ll be more likely to turn to distraction as a substitute. It’s a vicious cycle.

Overuse of distraction is likely to occur when you don’t have sufficient alternatives for coping with your distress. When you turn to another focus, you don’t come back. You may tend to get lost in your distraction activities. You start to play video games, surf the net or read a novel and suddenly the whole day is gone. Many addictive activities start out in exactly this way.

There are two coping challenges for which you need more and better coping tools than distraction. The first is problem solving. The second is managing difficult emotions.
Let’s consider some alternatives to distraction for times when either challenge is threatening to overwhelm you.

Problem Solving

Everybody runs into problems that seem overwhelming from the start or bog us down and frustrate us as we try to find resolution. You might try one or more of the following techniques which successful problem solvers use to see themselves through to the end:

• “Talking yourself through” confusion, uncertainty and frustration; for example, offering yourself reassurance or a steadying voice: You can do this or You’ll be okay or Just stay with it.

• Reminding yourself of times when you successfully handled other difficulties that at first seemed overwhelming

• Breaking the problem down into small, more manageable pieces

• Asking for help

Managing Difficult Emotions

There are many approaches to managing difficult emotions. All of them have something to offer as you work on developing this basic life skill. The important thing is that you find approaches that suit you—and that you use them! Here are a few examples:

• Dealing with only small doses of feelings at any given time

• Thinking of soothing, comforting responses

• Imagining yourself in a peaceful place or with a comforting person while you feel the feelings

• Learning to sort out and correct distorted thoughts that are making you feel even worse, such as Nothing ever goes my way; I’m such a loser; Nobody will ever love me, and so forth
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• Engaging in mindfulness meditation in which you learn to observe your feelings rather than be totally in them

• Praying (if this fits with your beliefs)

• Walking, exercising or practicing yoga while experiencing the feelings

• Sharing your feelings with people who are sympathetic and calming

Remember that none of these techniques is likely to provide instant relief. But your effectiveness in using them will get better with practice. And as you get better, you’ll have more confidence in yourself. You’ll be able and willing to take on more in life.

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Learning distraction techniques is part of the journey to recovery. It isn’t always possible to just ignore or shut out the voices. Sometimes you can work out what triggered the voice to be louder or more insistent and you can distance yourself from the trigger. But that’s not always possible. It is important if you can to at first acknowledge the voice, and try to work out what you were feeling just before it got loud, where you were, what happened etc. That can help you identify vulnerable situations for yourself and help you also learn more about you personally. But when the voice continues distraction techniques are the most important weapon you have. Sophie has been working through several worksheets her counsellor gave her, identifying what works for her, as well as a diary of what she does each time the voices get too loud. Sometimes she is dedicated to working on this and other times it gets shoved aside. Her distraction techniques only work as much as her commitment to the task.

Distraction techniques are not a magic wand, you have to be committed to using them and sticking them.

So what are distraction ideas. This is as unique as you are. It is a case of what works for you. CBT and mindfulness /meditation can help but you will need guidance and help from your counsellor to learn these. Others are as simple as:

  •  going for a walk, exercise, dancing
  • playing with your pet
  • sewing, drawing, painting, listening to music, writing
  • beauty treatments (nail polish, face masks, hair colour)getting outside and just moving
  • visiting, texting, ringing a friend
  • watching a movie or favourite TV shows
  • doing something very physical to get rid of anger, frustration etc (belt your pillow, throw a ball against a wall, use a punching bag)
  • cuddling your favourite stuffed toy
  • clean or re-organise your room

The list goes on. Pick and mix them up. Have a few you know work regardless. Try new things. As long as the moment passes and the voices fade. It can exhausting and be a real struggle to just find the energy to do the distraction techniques but it is worth it. The let down you get when you give into the ED voices is far worse.

For more ideas go to 151 things to do before you self-harm (I know a lot of you don’t self harm, but the ideas they give work for eating disorders, depression and lots of other mental health illnesses.

Another great handout, is the Alternatives to Self-Harm and Distraction Techniques pdf from Royal College of Psychiatrists. It is really worth getting. I have given this to Sophie – who actually seemed interested.

Talk through what works for you with your team, family or friend. Write it down so when you so don’t forget. When the voices get loud it can be really hard to think clearly and remember what you are meant to do. Just grab your written list.

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Supporting someone who harms

  • Don’t ignore or dismiss your concerns
  • Do educate yourself about self-harm
  • Do manage your own emotions about self-harm
  • Don’t panic or jump to conclusions
  • Don’t assume you know the reason
  • Do ask if suicide is a risk. Asking about suicide does not put ideas in their head.
  • Do encourage them to seek professional help
  • Do recognise self-harm maybe their only coping technique and giving it up is frightening
  • Don’t make ultimatums or demands
  • Do try to have open communication with them
  • Do respect them, don’t label or judge them
  • Do seek help for yourself if you feel it is too much for you to handle. Also you may need to tell someone safe about your friend or family member for their safety.

Self-help distraction

  • Use a red pen to mark yourself instead of cutting
  • Hit a punching bag
  • Exercise (but not obsessively)
  • Make lots of loud noise
  • Write negative feelings down and then destroy it
  • Scribble on paper in coloured textas
  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to a friend (about anything)
  • Do art/dance/music to vent emotions
  • Find self-help websites or articles
  • Hold ice or ping yourself with rubber bands. Whilst still harming they aren’t as destructive, and still give you a coping mechanism

Original from Headspace with my additions

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Sophie’s comment “I think I can express my feelings far better than my brothers and have always done so”, was very cute. I smiled at her and said yes she does NOW express herself better. But for quite a long time she didn’t use her voice and disappeared down the rabbit hole of anorexia.

Sophie smiled and said yeah. No ostrich approach, no denial, no ‘don’t talk about that’. She just accepted, acknowledge and smiled. I think we can safely say that this is very good progress. Soph has done this a few times in the last couple of weeks – just quietly acknowledged her past and been ok about it.

speaking from your heart

Her voice is also being heard. Bit dry and squeaky, sometimes too loud and strong, sometimes too weak and indecisive but she is practicing voicing her feelings and explaining why she gets upset etc. She is using words better, and putting them into a sentence that means something for both her and the listener. Has has voiced her deeper feelings to her father over christmas and talked to me about some of her other intense behaviours. It is a slow movement forward and a very very good one.

Her counsellor noticed the difference in her and the ability to speak for herself about herself when we had the group therapy sessions. Her counsellor is very proud of the progress made and the maturity she is acquiring.

Two things are shown, just how long the therapy is needed for after the initial anorexia illness and that by sticking with the therapy maturity, strength, life can be regained. At times it looked liked Sophie would never learn the lessons and tools given to her, but she has and is now learning to use them herself for her own benefit.

Yes it is a long journey, some longer than others. It is also different in the amount of strength, health and life that each person will achieve, but any level of recovery is better than living with the ED.

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I have lost count of the families who still want the magic fix. You know the one pill solution – “where is the fix they cry”. I understand how they feel, but the reality is there is no FIX. There is no magic pill or treatment. No one stop shop that has the answer.

Research is making progress and yes there will in the future be better outcomes, but not yet nor in the short term future. The complexity of eating disorders will always be there. Research shows that environment, genetics etc all play a part in the development of eating disorders.

mixed eating disorder treatmentsSo treatment becomes a mixed bag.

  • NG feeds, or
  • NG feeds + food by mouth, or
  • just food by mouth, or
  • nutrition drinks + food, or
  • just nutrition drinks, or
  • inpatient then outpatient, or
  • inpatient then therapists, or
  • mix of inpatient and outpatient
  • Maudsley or other FBT
  • doctor/nurse/medical regular appointments

… catching on?

Therapy will be a mix of:

  • dietitian/nutritionist
  • psychologist/counsellor
  • psychiatrist/paediatrician
  • CBT, DBT, hypno, massage, expressive therapy (art, dance etc)
  • journals/diaries
  • meal plans/meal diaries
  • support team/friends/family
  • intuitive eating
  • medication/supplements
  • distraction techniques/recovery toolbox

Personally it is:

  • personal goals/achievements
  • commitment
  • hope
  • honesty
  • learning both the costs and benefits

You may find other ways help you than what I have listed or know of. It isn’t one size fits all. But what is important to know and understand, the mixed lot of therapies and treatments is what achieves recovery. It is a lot of work and struggle to find what works for you or your loved one. But one that is worth it.

Ignoring the ED and hoping it goes away, or hoping someone will give you the magic fix is not going to bring recovery.

Hoping you will be the exception to the rule is also a very rare outcome.

Recovery is real, full recovery is also real. Finding the mix that works for you is what creates and grows the recovery.

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Laurie Glass, a pastoral counselor who works with women with eating disorders. She also recovered from anorexia and shared her story on Weightless several years ago.

While in the throes of an eating disorder, it seems that the negative thoughts rule one’s behaviors. It feels like the taunting eating disorder voice will never shut up and the self degrading thoughts shout so loudly that it’s impossible to hear anything else. Even so, there is hope to change those thoughts!

Changing one’s thinking is vital in eating disorder recovery. When critical thoughts are in charge, they only lead you deeper into the eating disorder. But when you are able to change those thoughts, that’s when steps toward freedom come.

But how can you change your thinking?

First, examine your thoughts and recognize those that are leading you down the path of self-destruction. The conclusions that feed the eating disorder have to go. Perhaps you think negatively of yourself, that you’re ugly, not talented, or that you’re a failure.

You may also have negative thoughts about your ability to recovery, that it will never happen or that you don’t deserve it.

You may want to list the negative thoughts. Then, really look at these words and see them for the lies that they are.

Secondly, while identifying the problematic thoughts is important, just deciding to no longer let them rule is not enough. While trying to change thoughts or behaviors, it’s vital to have something to replace them. If all we do is determine to not think something in particular, that just keeps us focused on that troublesome thought.

For example, if I told you to think about any color you want except for red, that you should determine to not think about red, that you can focus on any color but red, it makes sense that you’re going to think of the color red.

It’s reasonable to expect that my focus on the color red is only going to make it more difficult for you to put that color out of your mind.

On the other hand, if I told you to think of any color you want except for red, that there are lots of other colors to think about such as green or pink or lavender, burgundy or blue or peach, that’s going to help you to focus on a different color.

As you think about things associated with colors like green or blue or lavender, your thoughts can begin to go a whole different direction.

This color example may seem really simplistic, but the bottom line is that we really do need to change our thoughts while in eating disorder recovery. And having truthful statements to focus on in order to replace the musings that are harmful is a great place to start.

Thirdly, think of what encourages and inspires you. Are you touched by music, poetry, quotes, Scripture, the words of a kind friend or something else? Search and find the lyrics, quotes, verses or other words that are meaningful to you.

Do your best to find something positive to combat each lie and negative thought you have.

For example, if you think you’re a failure, focus on specific instances that remind you of what you’ve done right, all the times you’ve done your best or how there’s still time to have many successes in your life.

If you think you’re ugly, perhaps you can find a song or poem to remind you that you’re beautiful in God’s sight.

Change the thought that you’ll never recover by reading recovery stories and select quotes from those stories that reinforce it can also happen for you.

You might find it helpful to write those positive and inspirational statements on note cards that you can carry with you, tape them around a mirror, put them in your phone or do something else to help you keep these truths and positives easily accessible.

Keep in mind that thoughts affect emotions and emotions affect behaviors, so changing your thoughts is an important step in recovery.

Consider how it might change your emotions and behavior if you focused on how even baby steps add up to a journey instead of listening to the lie that recovery isn’t possible.

If you were able to accept your appearance instead of believing you’re ugly, think of the difference that could make in your recovery.

If you believed the truth instead of lies, imagine how your life might be different.

Remember that the critical thoughts may be pretty deeply embedded, they have likely been with you for a long time, and it will take time to replace them.

But with consistent practice, you might be surprised at the difference changing your thoughts can make.

The lies don’t deserve to rule over you. Let the truth and the positives about you and about the hope of recovery lead you one step closer to freedom from your eating disorder!

More About Laurie Glass: 

Laurie Glass is the creator of Freedom from Eating Disorders at www.freedomfromed.com. She is a recovered anorexic and Pastoral Counselor who provides e-mail Christian counseling for adult women with eating disorders. She is the author of Journey to Freedom from Eating Disorders as well as other works about eating disorder recovery from a Christian perspective. In addition, she was quoted in the April, 2012 issue of Women’s Health Magazine.

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